Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
Editorial Pet Peeves, Part 2
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
I just finished editing a paper that really made me crazy. It wasn’t so much that the author wasn’t a strong writer as it was that he was deeply lazy. He just trusted that I’d repair and tidy up, and that somehow I’d do all the icky stuff that he didn’t want to do. Yet he’s the one getting the big bucks. Grrrr. I’m sure I spent WAY more time cleaning up his mess than he did writing it or responding to my edits. Here’s another list of things that make editors spit nails.Don’t turn a paper in without the images. Often, the text is hard to follow without the images (that’s why you wanted an image in the first place, right?), but there is no way for an editor to know if capitalization or terminology is accurate without it—especially if it’s a product in beta—and there’s no way to catch that you’ve inadvertently included vacation pictures or screens from another product.Number your images as you go, and then check the numbers when you’ve finished writing. It’s surprising how common it is for perfectly logical and literate authors not to be able to count consecutively to ten. If you’ve used a place holder to mark the number as you go (although I don’t know why you’d do that), you know you did it, right? Well, an editor can surely manage to count those silly things and enter the numbers in the figure slugs and in the textural references, but how is an editor supposed to know if the image you provided actually belongs where you slugged it if you don’t number images and slugs? Don’t turn in images without numbering them. If you’ve provided the images late, and you find that all the images don’t have accordant numbers in the text, it’s your responsibility to figure out what goes where. If you’ve made a gap or duplication in your numbering, it’s your responsibility to figure out the corrections. Editors only know a lot about writing and editing. You mustn’t depend on us to know whether the image is correctly placed. Don’t turn in the first draft. It doesn’t matter how great an author you are, you made embarrassing mistakes in the draft version. If you are not a great author (and you know it), why would you expect anyone else to slog all the way through if you can’t make yourself do it? There’s really no excuse for leaving spelling mistakes that the word processing program flagged, or a spot where you’ve cut and pasted a portion of a sentence twice. Even if your paper is late, how much longer would it really take—an hour?—to reread it once? If you’ve worked with the editor or project manager before, don’t say “I’m never late.” We know that you were late on the last project, and we remember the excuse you made then, too. I’m sorry if some of you think this is presumptuous or defamatory, but frankly, I’ve edited hundreds of authors. I can only think of one author who was actually never late (hi, Mikey). Good authors call in advance, say they are going to be late, and provide a realistic new estimate. It’s still not a good thing, but at least the rest of the production team can make a plan. Really good authors don’t make commitments that they can’t keep. If you’re late and your editor pings you to see what’s up, unless you are buried in rubble from a 10.0 earthquake or you have been transported to a colorful other world by a tornado, you need to respond. We know you’re human and that things crop up. Just tell the truth—don’t disappear. Don’t leave queries unanswered. Your editor didn’t spend hours slogging through and thinking intelligently about your piece just to make comments. We made a comment or a query because something wasn’t clear, and it won’t be clear to the rest of your readers either. Frankly, editors study your work more closely than most readers, so we are less likely to have a question than the rest of your readers. The only difference is that editors have the chance to ask for clarification. Your other readers will just turn to another document and think grumpy thoughts about you and your work.Don’t answer a query or comment within the query or comment. Editors don’t ask questions for our own edification; we ask because your text has left a question for ALL your readers. Respond to the query or comment by changing or adding text. When you’re rereading, be sure to look for repeated words or expressions. Every paragraph should not have the expression “for example,” for example, even if you are providing an example in every paragraph. Unless you’re writing marketing copy for the box, don’t say “and more” or “there are others.” You need to tell us how many more or others there are, and generally what their nature is. You also need to explain why you’re not covering these subjects. It’s okay to say something like, “it’s beyond the scope of this paper” or “you’ll discover these tools and others as you explore on your own.”When you’re responding to edits, don’t stop half-way through. It’s more than a little annoying when your beloved but ragged editor is trudging through, dutifully responding to every change you made, just to find that you didn’t finish up. Even if you made it all the way through, if you didn’t respond to ALL the comments or queries, you are not finished. Perhaps you need to make a pass just for comments and queries, to make sure that you have addressed all the issues. I make a comments pass, before I send the piece back to you, to make sure that my queries are clear. When I’m cleaning out our edits and our comment conversations, I certainly notice when you miss a few. If you find that you can’t bear the sheer number of comments and queries, you might consider turning in clearer copy in the first place. Read your paper a bunch of times before you turn it in, and I promise, the number of comments and queries will drop on the editing side.There. I think I’ve vented. Phew. Thanks for listening.